Viking Longships


Read this section from a Viking tale. How did news travel? 

Just before winter a boat from Orkney put in at Shetland. It brought news that a longship from Norway had arrived at Orkney in the autumn. The king’s men had been aboard, carrying the message that the king wanted Bjorn dead, no matter where he was found. This same message had been sent to the Hebrides and even as far as Dublin.

Read this poem to learn more about Viking longships. What can you learn about them?

Let’s beat the oar blades
Of our shield adorned ship.

They had a fast ship with twelve or thirteen oars on each side and a crew of about thirteen men.
The ship was richly painted above the sea line and magnificently decorated . . . and it had a blue and red striped sail . . . It was fully rigged with tents and provisions.

See the great longship
Proudly lies at anchor.
Above the bow,
The dragon’s golden head
Stands high, overlaid with gold

One Saturday, King Harold
Had the deck tent hauled down.
And the women proudly watched
The ship speed past.

Battle-keen warriors
Pulled oars through the water.
Norwegian arms heaved
The iron nailed dragon
Down the river
Like an eagle on the wing.

Driving west from Russia
Harold’s gold filled ship
Sails wet with spray
Flying before the wind
The colorful sails strain.


  1. Name the animal and bird used to describe the ships. How do they describe the ships?
  2. How did Vikings keep sheltered and warm on journeys?
  3. What do you think iron-shielded ship means?
  4. What decorations were used on ships?